It has been a long five months for those in part-time football across Scotland.
Hostage to decisions and actions out of their control, without resources comparable to Premiership teams, the waiting game has been the only game in town for these clubs.
But this week there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel, with a return to training given a belated go-ahead.
Normality is something that has been craved and the phrase “new normal” repeated so often it has almost become redundant. However, for those playing part-time football, kicking a ball around with team-mates again is something that brings a welcoming sense of familiarity.
Cove Rangers were one such team back on the field. On Tuesday night, amid torrential rain and swirling wind in Aberdeen, Cove players were finally back at the Balmoral Stadium.
“We were meant to be training the week prior to this and I got a call from the gaffer saying it was delayed,” said captain Mitch Megginson. “You just know what’s coming – more running and even harder work. That’s the way we operate. We need to be at an even better standard than last year and they (the staff) will get us into a physical standard ready for the start.
“It was good to be back kicking a ball again. At Cove, everything is done at a high standard and fair play to the physio, Donal Gallagher, and our Covid officer Bill Ogilvie. There’s a one-way system and safety measures in place.
“You’re on to the training pitch – we’re not allowed in the changing rooms – and then breaking into groups and starting from there. That’s when you forget about before, getting a touch of the ball again with distancing measures in place.”
Pre-season will not be as long as manager Paul Hartley had hoped for, but Cove have the carrot of another new league to look forward to.
They will step into League One for the first time after another promotion, 12 months on from their success in the Highland League and victory in the SPFL pyramid play-off.
However, the curtain-raiser to the season will come a week earlier than their first league game against East Fife.
On October 10, they will welcome Premiership high-flyers Hibernian to the Balmoral in their opening Betfred Cup fixture. It will be the first time the club has played a televised game at home, with Premier Sports screening the game live.
Megginson added: “There’s certainly games you’re hoping for and we weren’t aware we would be getting on TV. But to start off with a home game against a huge club like Hibs and for it to be live, is excellent for the club.
“It’s another bit of history we can tick off. It gives a chance for the fans, who have not seen us for so long, to watch it on Premier Sports. They’ll get an idea on how we’re shaping up.”
With Cove Rangers and success going hand-in-hand in recent years, it can be difficult to play down expectations. They have made no secret of their ambition to progress through the Scottish leagues, but are also at pains to point out the increasing level of difficulty, as they rise higher.
Megginson said: “The first stage is survival. We’ve never been a team that gets ahead of ourselves. We’re just making our first step up and the first aim is to stay up.
“I have seen with Alloa and Dumbarton, part-time teams that have beaten full-time teams in this league. It’s not always a certainty that full-time teams finish in top spot.
“There’s a lot of cracking teams on their day and it’s going to be a very tough league. We said that last year and this is even more so. If you’re not on it, you’re going to get punished.”